I have had the privilege to work internationally with various colleagues from different European countries for few years now. At the moment, I am working as a project manager at the Create Future – Creating support models for participation in future work life -project. The Create Future –project is an Erasmus+ funded project which focuses on the creation of a diversity toolkit for employers, career guidance professionals and support workers to enable them to use the latest coaching models to support their clients and colleagues who may be facing a particular struggle or disadvantage.
One of the main objectives at this project is to focus on international collaboration and how to take it into account in the project development process. We also strive to use design process methods in collaboration, placing emphasis on how to involve end users in the project development work. For collaboration, the design process brings structure and supports it in the background at various stages, such as problem definition, end-user involvement, and output formulation.
In this project, our main target group is the support staff who work with people with special learning needs or double disadvantages. The support staff guide the above-mentioned persons in matters that are related to their need in help with housing, study, life management and employment. The aim is to achieve our project goals by involving end-users during the planning process, the main target group as well as the final beneficiaries, such as students and representatives of working life.
Create future – project has started in the middle of the Covid -19 pandemic. During the project the partners and coordinators haven’t been able to meet each other in person. Although I think, it would be crucial in the early stages of a project to meet your new partners in person so, that it would be possible to get to know each other well and create the culture for cooperation. I now believe that you can also achieve this by virtual collaboration where your only option is to rely on online tools.
Many things need to be considered when planning and organizing international collaboration events online. For example, what are the participants' language and IT skills and what kind of digital equipment are accessible for every partner to use, not forgetting to mention the time zones or the cultural differences. As a project manager I have tried to understand how these dynamics influence in virtual collaboration.
Learning, teaching, training event
A good example of online-collaboration is from an event from the recent past when we organized a Learning, Teaching and Training (LTT) event at through Teams. The aim was to find out the role of support services in promoting a person's education and employment opportunities, and to create a service portfolio suitable for different parties for this purpose.
From these joint planning of the LTT- days, two infographics were created. First one is describing the Service portfolio and the other is describing things that should be taken into account when making a portfolio, especially with people who need special support (pictures abowe).
"Respectful encountering matters."- Create Future - project partners
During the first two days of mutual workshops, we got to know each other and got an idea of how each organization works. We found the unifying factor in us, a professional approach with our clients, a “respectful encountering matters”.
"As learning progresses,support should be reduced."- Create Future - project partners
On the third day, there was a lot of discussion about coaching and mentoring students and other clients who need help making a personal portfolio. The instructor should be aware of the clients ’abilities and the proportion in which more challenge or support will be provided. Together we came to a conclusion: “As learning progresses, support should be reduced”.
The Create future -projects LTT days took place at 29th and 30th of April and 15th of June in year 2021.
Project manager at Live Foundation, Finland
Preparations for online co-creation
Before the online meeting, I wanted to make sure what the language skills of the participants are and whether they have their own equipment to attend the workshops. For example, some participants who were unsure of their language skills settled in the same room as a person who was able to translate questions and discussions into their own language. In this way, we gave everyone the opportunity to participate and contribute to co-creation.
After that I had to take into account the design perspective; How to create something new and innovate together online?
In my opinion there were few key aspects that lead the LTT days to be successful.
First, I think that we managed to create an atmosphere that in which it was safe to share thoughts and insights as also to explore new ideas.
Second, the pace was patient enough to give people time and space to participate, think, and bring their thoughts up.
Third, the platforms (Teams and Jamboard) we used in the mutual workshops which were technically easy to use, so all the energy could be channelled to discussion and exchange of ideas.
When innovating products or services, two different factors must be taken into account; what value they bring or how useful they are to a particular customer as well as their novelty value. For achieving these there are many different kind of design processes that can be selected and implemented to support the development process.
The design process can also be a match made in heaven when it is used as a modifiable framework and structure for collaboration. I highly recommend trusting the process and giving the innovation time to grow.
At least our work at the Create future - project still continues and there is lot to still share and learn from each other.